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The Revolution is Emotional


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I know I’m not the only person involved in social justice work who struggles with my mental and emotional health. Experiencing or witnessing the suffering, harm, and oppression embedded in every facet of our society is painful. So is responding to that suffering, both emotionally, and with action. Much of our work, whether it is internal – uprooting internalized oppression, acknowledging and navigating our privileges and blindspots, expressing ourselves in a world that demands conformity – or external – protesting, calling out institutions and public figures, speaking truth to power, providing direct service to and holding space for oppressed groups – is emotionally intensive. Even the root of our work is often an emotionally-charged belief in justice.

Many people who work in this vein suffer as a result of this intense emotionality. Burnout, anxiety, depression, and simply leaving the work behind are understandable responses to the challenges this work faces us with.

It’s important not to absorb the pain we see around us, to take on that of others as our own. From “The White Allies’ Guide to Collecting Aunt Linda” by Real Talk: WOC & Allies:

“If you are getting angry about other people’s pain, then your anger had better be serving those people, not yourself. So yes, get angry. But never forget whose anger it is. Never lose sight of the people actually experiencing that pain. Remember you are not one of them.”

People holding privileged identities (like myself) need to remember this. Taking on the pain of others as our own gets us nowhere.

It’s also very important for us to be conscious of how emotionally affecting this work can be. It’s important that we don’t take it lightly. We must be conscious of how we are being emotionally impacted, as we also grow conscious of the emotional experiences of others.

praxis-diagram-v2-1200x678

It’s important for us to emotionally check in with ourselves, and to process our feelings as part of our praxis. For example, Thais Sky and Lindsey Rae recommend that white people spend time privately processing their fragility and feelings around race issues, and reach out to other white people who can hold their fragility. This private processing makes way for more thoughtful public anti-racist work.

In other cases this may simply mean acknowledging when we are drained. Noticing our emotional needs and adapting to accommodate them is important. Part of what inspired this essay is an ongoing struggle with social anxiety and healing from trauma. Recently, I’ve been in a few situations in which I’ve had to step back from confrontational environments, and it’s been really difficult. In the past, I was always able to show up for actions and participate in public activities. Finding myself in a place where simply resisting the urge to self-isolate is taxing has been disappointing. It’s forced me to change the ways I engage with activism work, and to be understanding of my current emotional limits.

And yet, adjusting to my current needs is what allows me to stay engaged at all. Acknowledging our emotions and caring for ourselves and each other must be an integral part of our work. It’s what makes our movements and our lives sustainable.

Emotions also need to be celebrated! Coming together over our feelings – anger, grief, euphoria, or what-have-you – and creating a collective site of exploration, understanding, and bonding, is revolutionary. As Brianna Suslovic writes in “The Revolution Will Not Be Unsustainable: Drafting a Movement Strategy Handbook“, “Learning how to provide emotional support to friends impacted by executive orders and cabinet nominations is the kind of mutual aid work that is necessary right now, that sustains this work long beyond the next afternoon rally.”

Sharing and relishing in our emotionality is also a direct rejection of whiteness. As Tema Okun explains in her piece “White Supremacy Culture“, politeness, fear of open conflict, individualism and isolation, and white ideas of professionalism all work against emotionality and direct confrontation of issues (especially those which are racially charged). Openly sharing and celebrating our emotions brings these conflicts to the forefront, and frees us from the restrictive white codes of politeness.

Our organizing and our personal praxes need to hold space for the multiple dimensions of emotionality inherent in our work. Here are some ideas of what that can look like:

This is hard work. I work on this every day. Cultivating the vulnerability I need to get help and reach out to others is difficult. Building space for emotions into struggles which feel urgent and holding the ethereal complexities of feelings rather than simply evaluating tangible outcomes are modalities with which we are often unfamiliar. Seeing and supporting each other can be terrifying and draining. Navigating the new territories of radical emotionality is not easy, but it is possible and necessary.

Imagine your vision of justice, of a better world. Mine is one where emotions are valued, shared, and responded to with understanding and emotional literacy. I’m in this work because I care, because I am tender. Our tenderness is revolutionary.

With love and lots and lots of *feelings*, 

madeleine

Image Sources: 1. is a self-portrait I took while battling depressive symptoms as a result of an abusive relationship {and those feelings were/are fucking valid!!} . 2. Froebel Decade

if you enjoy my writing, please do share it 🙂 please also consider buying a copy of my zine on whiteness (a portion of the proceeds currently goes to Protect Juristac) and supporting my work via PayPal. thank you so much for reading. 

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Why White Activists Need to Go to Red States


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We’ve known for a while now that there are a few problems in rural America that need addressing. I can name a few: rural poverty, white supremacy, Evangelical fervor, and Trumpism. The 2016 election round made all of these issues painfully clear, and they continue to affect U.S. politics on a national and global scale.

Rural America’s issues are also self-perpetuating. I’ve watched the poorest county in Missouri strike down an initiative to increase funding for its already under-resourced public schools, some even lacking internet access. Lacking public resources, insular community dynamics, racial ignorance and intolerance, meth addiction, and government corruption are just a few of the factors at play in rural conservative parts of the U.S. All of them create a vicious cycle, increasing poverty rates and anger and bigotry alike.

Here’s where white activists come in: rural communities need outside resources and perspectives. We must confront white supremacy and conservative extremism, and help provide educational and organizational resources. White activists are the perfect candidates for this job.

Who Will Take Responsibility for Dealing with White Supremacy if We Don’t?

As I write in the A Letter to My White Friends zine, organizing and educating other white people is our work. The ignorance, racism, and Trumpism we see coming from so many insidious corners of our communities? Yeah, that’s on us, and we need to do whatever we can to defeat it.

White privilege operates in a way that unfortunately gives a white person’s views on racism more credibility than first-person experiences from people of color. Again, from my zine:”Due to their biases and because they know you, they have more respect for you and are more likely to listen to you than people of color. Yes, that is really fucked up, but it’s probably true. And even if these conversations are uncomfortable, who better to bear the discomfort of other white people than you, a white person?”

White activists are not only seen as more credible due to their privilege, but are also much safer in white communities than people of color. The same goes for those who are cisgendered or able to straight-pass. Throughout my time working in rural communities, my ability to pass as heterosexual protected me from anti-queer violence and enabled me to keep working towards the undoing of toxic white supremacy and crippling poverty.

Because we are much more likely to be both heard and safe in these communities, confronting white supremacy, organizing community members, and providing outside resources and perspectives are much easier for us. More than that, they are our responsibility, the contribution we can make in the fight for racial and economic justice.

Why White Activists Should Go to Red States: Madeleine L. Keller

Don’t Go Where It’s Easy

Recently, I attended a talk given by indigenous activist and water protector Winona LaDuke. She spoke about her experiences doing community organizing work on her reservation in Minnesota, explaining the difficult rural conditions and bigotry of the white people who surrounded the area. Despite the difficulties, she maintained that working within this community was extremely important and impactful. Then she referred to all the organizing done in urban areas, and urged us, “Don’t do community organizing in places that are easy – go where we need you.”

Urban areas, of course, are not without a host of their own special problems, which deserve attention. But what Winona wanted to draw our attention to was both the utter lack of resources in rural areas, and their inability to garner the attention of many activists.

Rural America, especially in conservative white communities, is not a comfortable or easy place to organize. But it is a place that desperately needs outside attention and investment. Rural dwelling people face serious issues – police corruption and militarization, domestic violence, human trafficking, major economic inequalities, and unregulated water quality, to name a few. These issues manifest into human conditions that beg for concern and exposure by activists on a national scale. The insular and hidden-away nature of many rural communities is what helps perpetuate many issues. Outside attention and resources can help change that.

The Civil War Continues

No one is surprised that bigotry lives on in rural white communities. But they have made it clear that even as they deal with issues of increasing inequality and deindustrialization, they cling to supremacy and scapegoating, rather than turn to the Left for poverty-competent policies. They continue to be manipulated by fear-mongering right-wing politicians who see opportunities to profit from their anxieties. Under-resourced schools, insular communities, and poverty all keep racism alive, creating a well of ignorance politicians can draw from.

Clearly, this needs to stop. Community organizing for racial justice and multicultural understanding, economic justice, and increased educational resources can help deplete the well. (A great example of this work is rural Oregon’s Rural Organizing Project – they do amazing work!) I truly believe that if white supremacy and rural poverty can be confronted with educational and material resources, we can see a political shift away from the destructive and violent tendencies white rural communities currently embody. Until we can do this, the civil war rages on.

Confronting the issues of rural white America is challenging. My own experiences doing community organizing work in these areas were difficult, but also rewarding and successful. I engaged many people in conversations on their thoughts about race, poverty, politics, and their own conditions. I brought educational resources and new perspectives to the table, and saw people change and grow as a result. Students I worked with understood and supported Black Lives Matter. Adults I worked with became more aware of community poverty levels and their shared struggle. I believe there is hope that rural white America can change for the better. But for the seed to grow, someone has to plant it. White activists have the safety of their identity and the ability to bring support and resources to community organizing efforts to do just that.


So, I’m leading a project this summer to bring white organizers into a white rural community. It’s a week-long project focused on a survey of community residents about the educational resources they need, and culminates in a Welcome Table-style discussion on racial, class, and social dynamics within the community. If you’re interested in participating, reach out via the contact page up top 🙂

Please also remember to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more updates on this project and others! And if you’re interested in reading more about whiteness, I suggest picking up a copy for yourself. $1.25 from each zine goes to a racial justice-focused organization (currently Protect Juristac) Thank you for your support 🙂

Images: “Post Mortem: The Democrats Forgot Rural America”SURJ Facebook page

whiteness

A Letter to My White Friends: Cultural Appropriation and a Search for Cultural Belonging


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     Cultural appropriation is a sore spot for many people I know. To some extent, that makes sense. No one likes to be told they can’t have something. However, that doesn’t mean that cultural appropriation isn’t a viable issue. Until the people whose cultures are being appropriated by people who don’t belong to those ethnic groups, whose traditions are being turned into products for people outside of that culture to profit from, it will continue to be a major issue. I myself find it difficult to write eloquently on the nuances of why exactly cultural appropriation is an issue. Instead, please check out these varying perspectives: The Dos and Don’ts of Cultural Appropriation by Jenni Avins and the 7 Myths About Cultural Appropriation Debunked video on Decoded with Francesca Ramsey (those videos are so good!).

     Please do read those and do more research into the controversy, it’s a complex subject that I am still grappling with myself. What I do want to touch on today, is how interesting it is to me that often things that are appropriated or commodified are taken for two reasons: they are healing traditions or deep traditions that carry and create meaning and lend a sense of belonging. Some easy examples of appropriated and commodified healing traditions are Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, yoga, and the chakra system. Some examples of meaningful traditions or items that carry meaning include Native American headdresses, Rastafarian dreads, the om symbol, Buddha figurines, and Chinese and Japanese characters (how many non-Chinese [and non-Chinese speaking] people have you seen with a Chinese character tattoo? Just asking~). All of these items or traditions are examples of cultural practices which have been taken from their original cultural contexts, and in many cases, stripped of their rich cultural histories and meanings. I doubt that people at music festivals wearing feather headdresses know which tribes wear them (according to this source, “tribes in the Great Plains region, such as the Sioux, Crow, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, and Plains Cree”) or why they do so (another source). Meanwhile, these tribes still suffer extreme discrimination and disrespect at the hands of the U.S. government, as exemplified by the ongoing #NoDAPL conflict.

      Here is a plain example of the issue of cultural appropriation – the originators of the appropriated tradition continue to suffer systemic racism while the appropriators know little of the origin. And yet, we appropriate these things for certain reasons. Why? In today’s modernizing and homogenizing world, white people especially often feel a lack of cultural roots. In a recent conversation with my mom about cultural appropriation, she objected by saying, “Well, what culture do we have? We’re just American, we’ve been here forever, we don’t have anything that’s ours.” I would wager that her sentiment mirrors an idea that many white people, and other people who have been removed from their cultural backgrounds, also believe. But I believe this idea that we have no traditions of our own to draw on is partly a lie to keep us dependent on mainstream and popular culture, and its encouraged consumption-based modes of thinking and being. Andi Grace supports a similar point of view: “this false belief in a spiritually-void past leads many european people to feel justified in appropriating the spiritual practices and traditions of indigenous people. and thus, we perpetuate the process of colonization in our spiritual and cultural practices. we see this with yoga, smudge kits sold at trendy hipster clothing stores, twerking and headdresses at music festivals just to name a few examples.”

      We are often made to forget that our ancestors, who had real ethnic origins and important spiritual and cultural practices, were forced through discrimination and persecution to lay down their cultures and traditions in favor of assimilation. ScottishIrishGermanItalian, and other peoples all faced much discrimination, not to mention Eastern Europeans, Jews, and other groups now considered White. Ever heard a derogatory joke about “gingers”? Or a knock against hillbillies? Those comments are somewhat more innocuous today (although the term hillbilly is still a site of controversy and discrimination), but they trace back to anti-Scottish and anti-Irish immigration sentiment during the nineteenth century in the U.S. Today, many of their traditions, like tartan or plaid patterns and St. Patrick’s Day are commodified and de-historicized, signifying a degradation of their original cultural significance. (Some efforts to continue Scottish and Irish traditions specifically do exist, like Irish dance troupes and Scottish bagpipe brigades).

These cultures which comprise our own ethnic roots, along with the cultures and traditions of early American settlers, can provide an answer to the question, “What culture do we have?”. It turns out, we have plenty to draw from. Many of the practices we appropriate because they carry meaning or spiritual significance can be replaced or supplemented by practices from out European roots as well as from not-so-distant pioneer past-times. It has been said that in recent years, America has seen a breakdown in civil society, but building on the traditions of the past can give us practices to re-build the our communities, find and re-create our own meaningful symbols, customs and cultural practices, and essentially find meaning in our own lives, backgrounds, neighborhoods, and cultures. The challenge of avoiding cultural appropriation is inherently creative, asking us to look at our own cultural roots and build off of them to create our own practices that we enjoy and that serve us better than what most people think of American culture today: non-nurturing institutions and customs like WalMart, fast food, the hate-filled sect of the Evangelical church, our increasingly phone-addicted and fast-paced society. If we can create and re-create cultural practices to replace, or at least mitigate, these things, we’ll be well on our way to healing and finding meaning without appropriating other cultures and perpetuating systemic racism.

To that end, I’d like to list a few cultural practices from early settler America that persist in many pockets of the country (including rural Missouri) that might help us rebuild a culture centered on community and meaningful practices:

– Barn-raisings and quilting bees: these were essentially get-togethers that emphasized the principle of “Many hands make light work” – a neighborhood or community would come together to build a structure, make quilts, can foods, or accomplish some other work task, all while surrounded by other community members, turning the work into a social occassion. These work parties were often followed by actual parties, to celebrate the work they had done!

– Traditional food cultures: though the first thing you may think of when asked what American food culture is might be a hamburger, American people have developed traditional foods that are still served around the country. Some of my personal favorite American dishes include cornbread, mashed potatoes, and brussel sprouts. Delving back into these food cultures, which were developed for certain areas and eating with the seasons, can be a way to connect to earlier times, but it’s also a great and healing practice to just enjoy good food together!

– Folk music and folk dance: over the summer I went to a folk music festival in Missouri, where people had come from all over the area to play instruments like the fiddle, banjo, and stand-up bass. The festival was a wonderful social occasion for musicians and spectators alike, but the best part was the square-dancing. One whole side of the square was covered with a wooden platform, which served as a dance floor for square dancing every night of the festival. Square dancing is an inherently community-building form of dance, since it requires you to dance with not one partner, but seven other people. The dancing was extremely fun, and I can see how incorporating dance and music traditions like this could really help to rebuild community.

– European-rooted witchcraft, herbalism, and healing traditions: the Salem witch hunts didn’t quite root out all the witches. Herbalism and herbal healing knowledge are still alive and well today, thanks in part to the New Age movement, which unfortunately de-historicized many of these older healing practices. While healing is now dominated by Western medicine and the medical industrial complex, these traditions are not gone, and they can do as much for as Chinese medicine or Ayurveda.

– Storytelling: Ever heard a story about Davy Crocket? Then you’ve heard an American tall tale, an oral storytelling tradition practiced by settlers. We still do it today when we tell stories that have been passed on to us from others. The power of stories like these helps provide entertainment while also bringing people together and helping formulate the culture of the area, as a culture’s stories have a hand in shaping the mindsets and beliefs of its people.

     All of these practices can help us re-build community, re-create meaning and culture of our own, and heal us in the way that appropriated practices also do. If you’re interested in these practices or in this idea itself, definitely research them more deeply, and perhaps delve into your family’s own histories and traditions. Francesca Nicole has a great article on how to do ancestral research. You can also read more about a lot of these practices and how they encourage community and culture-building here, especially under the Community Project Examples heading (this website is amazing, by the way). Finally, there are many books out there on building new cultures, but a few that I have read and that I feel are tied to today’s piece are The Next American RevolutionThe Cultural Creatives, and Radical Homemakers. They are certainly not unproblematic and open to interpretation, but definitely hit on the issues I’ve covered today.

Please let me know your thoughts on the issue of cultural appropriation and culture re-creation. Is it necessary? Is it possible? What about cultural appropriation; what’s your definition? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you.

With love and hope for a new culture and old traditions,

Madeleine

whiteness

A Letter to My White Friends: Smashing White Fragility, Fear, and Guilt


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Consider this your call-in. A letter to white people, from a white person, on the process of overcoming white fragility.

Two weeks ago, I issued a call for my white friends to really examine our white identities, confront fragility, and help disrupt systemic racism. But the question remained, how do we go about smashing our fragility? To delve into the answer, let’s be thoughtful about what this entails. First, I want to say that the phrase “smashing white fragility” is something of a misnomer. While it sounds powerful (and it is!), it also conveys the idea that this is a one-time thing, a hump you get over, the spell that banishes your fragility forever. It doesn’t work that way. Confronting your fragility is an ongoing, life-long process. Unlearning the supremacy and comfort in our whiteness will be something we can engage with for the rest of your time on Earth. That being said, it is an important, rewarding, and desperately needed process for today’s political moment. Please engage.

Before we smash our fragility, we must identify it and understand why it’s so insidious. Fragility is, as Courtney E. Martin puts it, the “gut emotional pushback” to anything that makes us feel uncomfortable about being white. Anything that calls our identity into question, asks us to shoulder any responsibility for racism, or really just asks us to think about our racial identity at all. In fact, this article itself might be triggering your fragility right now. If it is and you’re still here, awesome. That’s how we smash; we lean into the discomfort.

There are many, many people who have expressed why white fragility is bad. I’ll summarize here by saying this: white fragility is what makes us complicit in actively upholding structures of racist oppression. When we don’t acknowledge our own racial identities, privilege, or even confront the issue of race at all, we continue to oppress others, sometimes without even knowing it. White people are the most racially privileged and therefore powerful group. The Western world favors whiteness to such a degree that if we choose not to look at our power and actively de-construct it, very little will change and everyone will continue to suffer, including us.

Break Through Your Fear and Guilt

I don’t believe it’s good for us to live in such fear and opposition of each other. It’s not good for white people to be so fearful and angry, gripping on to white supremacy the way the right-wing continues to do.  It’s better for us to be humble and open to connection. So, we need to break through the fear and guilt that prevent us from looking at our white privileges and identities. We can pay attention to our gut emotional pushback responses when they occur. This will help us acknowledge the feelings we have, whether they be guilt, fear, or other things. When we are aware of these feelings, we can choose to actively address them by pushing through them and reassuring ourselves. This way, we can forge ahead on our exploration of our own whiteness, and our relationships to other racial identities.

Do Your Work

I really like the phrase Anna Kegler uses to encourage white people to educate ourselves on our identities. We do indeed need to do our work. This means reading up on race issues and looking at perspectives from POC and white authors, learning about micro-aggressions, adopting the appropriate response to getting called out. It means #KnowYourBaldwin, understanding how whiteness manifests in the workplace, and making your feminism intersectional. As white people who haven’t had to think about our race, we have a lot of researching and thinking to do in order to catch up with everyone else, and that is ok! In fact, I think it’s really fun. Learning about whiteness is what helps your deconstruct your own identity and become aware of what it means. To be aware of yourself in that way is a joy and a privilege in itself. Podcast. Blog, and another blog. Honestly y’all I could keep going (seriously I have a Pinterest board where I collect this stuff) but I’ll just let this be the jumping -off point for now.

Strike A Balance and Embrace Discomfort

In my last article, I talked about how uncomfortable I would get in social justice spaces. Here are a few words of advice for myself and people who are experiencing similar things. First, people have a right to be angry at you. If you aren’t well-received in certain situations, the people involved might not be mad at you personally, but angry at racial injustice as a whole. Alternatively, you might actually be doing something offensive or aggressive that you are not aware of. In either situation, it’s important to observe your impact, which is often different than your intention (you can, and will, make mistakes even if you are well meaning). Validate the emotions of people who might call you out. Strike a balance between the understanding that race issues and discussions are not about you, and at the same time being careful to reflect on your actions.

     You will make mistakes! You will get called out! It will feel uncomfortable! I get called out by my friends and partner fairly often and it sucks, but it also means we’re both trying to bridge the gaps in my ignorance. As Saroful says, “If someone tells you what you just did was wrong, it’s because they genuinely believe you are a good person who would do the right thing if you knew what it was.” I apologize, learn what I did wrong, and we move on. In embracing the discomfort and moving through it, I am able to keep learning and de-powering my own identity.

Talk About Your Identity

This is something I think socially aware white people need to do more of. We need spaces to be able to openly, non-confrontationally, and non-competitively (ie there’s no one in the space trying to be “better”/prove they’re less racist than everyone else). I am extremely lucky to have safe spaces with my partner and friends of color where we can reflect on race and whiteness together and talk about our differing identities. I have learned so much from them, and I think looking for these spaces with people of color can be beneficial if both parties are open and willing to talk about these issues.

On the other hand, I also think it would be immensely helpful if these same safe spaces existed for white people to talk to other whites about their identities. My favorite example of this is AWARE-LA’s Saturday Dialogues.  They explain the importance of these spaces in more detail, but I like this: “This is a long, difficult, and sometimes painful process [of examining one’s own whiteness and racism]. It’s helpful to have a space where other white people engaged in this process can support and challenge us, without having to always subject people of color to further undue trauma or pain as we stumble and make mistakes. Having a community of white anti-racist people gives us hope, helps us grow our practice, and gives us strength to stay in it for the long haul.” Creating space for white anti-racists to talk to one another about their journeys, realizations, and experiences can reinforce individual practices and keep us accountable to confronting our identity on a regular basis. It gives us a support group of people who are trying to do what we’re doing too! (For more reading on AWARE’s Dialogues)

Know Where We Are Needed and Speak Up When We Can

In many conversations or demonstrations on racial issues, white people are not the focal point. We have race issues too, as you can see, but unless the event at hand is specifically about whiteness, we need to keep out of the spotlight. This article by Ashleigh Shackleford discusses the presence of white people at Black Lives Matter rallies thusly: “Whiteness operates in a way that means that using your privilege “for good” often requires Black folks to still be a position to be “saved” or “in need.” We don’t need white saviorism. We don’t need white people to speak for us. We don’t even really need white people to show up to rallies. We need our reparations, we need intentional disruption that involves high risk and we need y’all to stop playing.” As white people, we need to be conscious of where we are needed and where we are not. When we are called on for something specifically, then we can show up. In fact, Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ), is a great example of organizing white people when they are needed for race issues. This organization resources organizing led by people of color, often by supplying white supporters for protests when POC-lead organizations ask for them.

This all being said, it is also important to speak up when we can, or when we need to. If we’re in a situation, say, with only other white people present, and something offensive happens, we can say something about that. I’m not suggesting that we dogmatically hoist our anti-racist moral superiority over someone’s subtly racist comments. This doesn’t need to be a callout, instead it can be an opportunity for everyone present to discuss the racialized incident and learn from it. Here’s a really excellent article on how to call someone in by Sian Ferguson. In general, I find responding with genuine curiosity and openness, rather than suspicion and condemnation, will help open up the conversation.

By engaging in these steps, and especially by continuing to educate ourselves, we can smash our fragility and begin to extricate ourselves from the web of fear, guilt, and fragility that makes us cling to our racial privilege. I hope these suggestions have been helpful. For further reading, definitely check out all the links above, all the links in my last letter to my white friends, and also: “When You’re Accustomed to Privilege, Equality Can Feel Like Oppression” by Chris Boeskool, and the Trump Syllabus. Also, watch this clip from the documentary The Color of Fear and watch 13th on Netflix, for more understanding of systemic racism at work today.

If you found this helpful, interesting, problematic, or what have you, let me know! Comment or send me a message. I am happy to take feedback, make suggested edits if I see fit, discuss ideas, and hatch anti-racist plots with you. I am one little human adding my voice to a conversation that has been going on for years and years, so I definitely did not say it all, nor do I profess to know it all. Keep reading, researching, experiencing, and practicing. We can do this.

In solidarity and support,

Madeleine

Edit: If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy my zine on whiteness. It includes the updated version of this essay, along with two others as well as several other thought pieces, quotes, research, personal anecdotes, lots of resources, and interactive questions about dismantling whiteness and engaging in social justice work. It’s $4 (PDF) or $5 (paper) for a copy, and a portion of the proceeds goes to an organization that supports racial justice. For more info and to learn what organization the proceeds are currently going to, click HERE. and you can LIKE on Facebook and also share this post with people in your life, especially your white friends!! Friends don’t let friends keep their white fragility un-smashed. 

Photos: 1,2 <these are good links too!

Uncategorized, whiteness

A Letter to My White Friends: We Fear Seeing Ourselves Clearly


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A letter to white people, from a white person, on white fragility and mustering the courage to overcome it.

Disclaimer: I am not writing this to police other white allies and anti-racists. My purpose in writing this series is to create dialogue around the white identity, in hopes of sharing what I know, and helping to further white people’s collective understanding of themselves, with the ultimate goal of promoting racial justice and prison abolition. I hope to spark discussions among/with fellow white activists so that we may better understand our place in this work. I also hope to catalyze new white allies coming to social justice in the wake of recent national events, who may feel scared, confused, or ashamed of their white identities and privilege. My goal is not to chastise whites, nor to claim that I am a “good” white person. I come to this not as an expert, but as one voice in a larger discussion. This is first and foremost a dialogue, and I welcome other perspectives, questions, and comments.

     How does it feel to be a white person in social justice work? When I first started out, I felt immensely uncomfortable with my own whiteness. I felt the need to try to hide or minimize it. I rarely spoke in my classes, most of which are focused on racial justice, and generally avoided drawing attention to myself. I felt guilty about my family’s money and wealth, and would rarely bring up that part of my life. I felt the urge to separate myself from my own whiteness, constantly saying aloud “I hate white people.”I really wanted to reject my white privilege. In situations where I was forced to look at my own privilege, I felt so much pain that I had a deep wish to ignore my whiteness, rather than to deconstruct and explore it.

In one of my classes last year, we were instructed to do a privilege walk, where everyone started at the same spot in the room, and moved backward for every symptom of oppression, such as going hungry as a child or growing up near gang activity, and forward for every sign of privilege, such as housing security or having two parents with bachelor’s degrees. Predictably, I ended up in the front, and in tears. Some of my closest friends and my partner, all of whom are people of color, were far in the back of the room. Seeing them there, and seeing myself so far ahead, broke my heart. I was extremely uncomfortable with realizing my privilege was so visible, and that I was so unfairly privileged compared to my loved ones. I felt so guilty about it, I shied away from acknowledging and confronting my privilege.

I’ve seen this type of hesitation in many other fairly liberal white people. One person I know was planning to lead a workshop on Chinese medicine. When the hosting organization approached him with their concerns that the workshop might be culturally appropriative due to his white identity and lack of accrediting sources for Chinese healing traditions, he reacted with tears, guilt, and confusion. He failed to truly confront the issues of being a white individual attempting to teach an ancient healing tradition that was not his own. He hesitated to really own up to the fact that, as a white individual, he didn’t deserve to claim that culture’s knowledge as his own, as he was not a part of it.

Similarly, someone I know recently went on a vacation to Cabo over a break from school. I heard later they were trying to keep it quiet. While this may have partially been done in an attempt to maintain a public persona as an enigma, it also seemed to me to be a strategy of hiding their class status, which is directly related to whiteness and privilege.

     This hiding behavior reflects an unwillingness to admit our privilege and acknowledge our identity as a white, upper or middle class person. In all cases, I think the unwillingness to confront whiteness here comes from the guilt and anxiety involved in owning up to privilege: “If I admit that I am privileged/that I have this much/that I benefit in some way from supremacy, what will they think of me? What will I think of myself?”This fear and the resulting pushback against situations which encourage white people to face their privilege are part of white fragility, which Dr. Robin DiAngelo writes about very eloquently when she discusses the reactions white people have to race-based stressors, which include some of the situations I’ve described above. As DiAngelo points out, we, as white people, don’t have to look at our privilege on a regular basis. When we are forced to do so, we get scared, and we get angry. 


     Facing my own privilege does feel bad sometimes – looking at the privilege whiteness gives me, I feel dirty and gross and overly powerful, even tyrannical. The thing is, for those hesitating to confront their own white privilege, it’s good to remember other people can already see it. The brilliant black writer and scholar James Baldwin, in a letter to his nephew entitled “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to my Nephew on the Hundredth Anniversary of Emancipation”writes about white people thusly:“…if the word integration means anything, this is what it means: that we, with love, shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it.” Baldwin demonstrates how obvious white privilege is, and how racism and its related systems of oppression are ultimately perpetuated by white people and their inability – or resistance – to see themselves clearly. Though he writes this suggesting that people of color need to help white people face themselves, let us go further.

White people, especially liberal, radical, and well-educated white people like myself, must take responsibility for facing and accepting our own privilege. We must become aware and be willing and committed to exploring how our privilege affects other groups and how it so greatly benefits us. We must look at our privilege and see ourselves clearly. Only by doing this can we really see all the opportunities we have to step back and make space for people of color, whether this be through relinquishing claims on traditional knowledge belonging to cultures outside of our own, or exposing our class status and using the resources at our disposal to donate to social justice causes.


     Facing, exploring, and continually dismantling your white privilege is a doorway to opportunity and an awesome way to deepen your social justice work or practice! Although it is scary, awkward, and embarrassing at times, it can also be very exciting. Courtney E. Martin describes the process by calling it a transformation of “white fragility into courageous imperfection”. She writes:

“If white people want to belong to the beloved community, if we want to be part of the tide that is turning thanks to people of color-led movements like#BlackLivesMatter, then we have to show up as bold and genuine and imperfect. We have to be weary of our fragility. We have to be intolerant of our own forgetfulness.”

Martin’s suggestion of courageous imperfection means that we have to be open to the fact that we and our identities are, and will always be, very privileged and problematic. We will never be comfortable with our racial identities once we accept them for what they truly are. But Martin also writes that engaging in this process “is the beginning of a lot more joy. It’s the beginning of a lot more connection. It’s the beginning of the end of racism.”

As someone actively trying to beat back my own white fragility, I can agree. In my next letter to my white friends and other white anti-racists, I’ll discuss ways of actually going about this process by exploring our white privilege and smashing our fragility. In the meantime, if you’re looking for more on this concept, check out the articles linked above, “The Sugarcoated Language of White Fragility” by Anna Kegler, and WhiteAccomplices.org. 

If you found this helpful, interesting, problematic, or what have you, let me know! Comment or send me a message. I am happy to take feedback, make suggested edits if I see fit, and discuss ideas with you. This writing is coming out of a year-long research investigation into whiteness, among other things, so I’m down to talk about whiteness, racism, and the like any time.

In solidarity and support,

Madeleine

If you enjoy what I’ve written here today, and you want to support my future writing, I would really, really, be extremely stoked and appreciative. There are a few ways you can support my blog and help me get my message out. You can DONATE via Paypal to help me pay for toilet paper and such, and you can LIKE on Facebook and also share this post with people in your life, especially your white friends!! Please support the dismantlement of racism 🙂


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